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  • Swine flu science update: 20 October 2009


Seasonal flu vaccines may give some protection against swine flu — influenza A(H1N1) — say Mexican scientists.

In research published in the British Medical Journal this month (6 October) scientists found that the 2008–9 trivalent seasonal vaccine appeared to offer some protection against influenza A(H1N1), particularly severe forms of the disease. This is likely because parts of the vaccine's H1N1 virus are genetically similar to A(H1N1).

Similar immunity has been found in older people who have contracted seasonal flu several times during their lifetime.

US researchers have found that seasonal flu viruses possess a number of epitopes — structures recognised by the immune system — that are also in the A(H1N1) virus. The research was published ahead of print in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Scientists at the US National Institutes of Health have discovered that a standard X-ray of the lungs can help doctors determine if a patient has severe swine flu. They say the finding would enable doctors to monitor treatment response. The research was published online in the October issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology.

Egypt has brought together a team of experts to develop a swine flu vaccine by 2011, the country’s health minister, Hatem El-Gabaly, told Reuters last week (12 October). Egypt was hard hit by H5N1 bird flu — a situation the government does not want to repeat.

Flu viruses can cause heart problems, mental health issues and even harm intelligence in unborn babies, New Scientist reported this month (7 October). A US study looked at the health of men who were foetuses during the 1918 and later flu pandemics.

The United Kingdom's director of immunisation, David Salisbury, has said the benefit of a flu jab for pregnant women could not be underestimated, according to a report by the Press Association (13 October). "Concerns over vaccination safety and pregnancy are theoretical with no evidence to support those concerns even for live virus vaccines," he said.

In the Netherlands the public is growing increasingly sceptical about the real impact of swine flu after an eminent virologist, Albert Osterhaus, was accused of stoking fears to promote his vaccine development business, Science reported last week (16 October).

A business suit made from fabric that is claimed to protect against swine flu is on sale in Japan, the science news agency has reported (9 October). The suit was developed using nanotechnology and was intended to repel dirt and odours. But scientists have also found that viruses do not survive longer than 3 hours after contact with the fabric.

The WHO will start rolling out a swine flu vaccine to developing countries in the Northern hemisphere in November, reports the BBC. Australia and China have begun their A(H1N1) vaccination programmes, while people with priority will get a vaccine in the United Kingdom this week. The US vaccination programme has been delayed.

SciDev.Net has published a guide for journalists wrestling with the problems of reporting on pandemics — including A(H1N1) — this month (9 October).

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